RIP John Hurt

article-2508559-19758e8e00000578-312_306x423[Something written pseudonymously about John Hurt for a 50th anniversary feature on Doctor Who. I have no idea by who.]

He is the one who comes between. The one we did not know was there. The one who does not count (or, at least, was not counted). Even his costume, part-McGann/part-Eccleston and bridging between them both, is interstitial, not really his own. He is the not-Doctor who says ‘no more’. As Matt Smith’s Doctor explains: ‘I said he was me, I never said he was the Doctor. … The name I chose is the Doctor. The name you choose, … it’s like a promise you make. He’s the one who broke the promise’ – and what he did to end the Time War, destroying Gallifrey and billions of Time Lords, he did ‘not [do] in the name of the Doctor’.

It now seems inevitable that sooner or later John Hurt would play the Doctor, and that when he did it would be this particular Doctor – the War Doctor – or someone like him. The one who can bear it no longer. The one who must face a Kobayashi Maru moment that is no mere test or simulation, and which cannot, Kirk-like, be glibly cheated.[1] It is not just that Hurt, the oldest actor to play the role, has been around even longer than the series,[2] and thus can bring a sense of perspective to the more infantile, gurning, gesticulatory, timey-wimey shenanigans of the relaunched series, to its peacock displays of masculinity, its violence and all the snogging. Although, edging his sorrow with an impish despair at the younger men playing his older self, he does.

Nor is just that Hurt’s sf credentials are impeccable, although they are. In Contact (Zemeckis US 1997), he portrays the billionaire funding the first contact mission as an Arthur C. Clarke lookalike, and more recently he raised Hellboy (Ron Perlman) from a pup for Guillermo del Toro. Haggard and squalid in Michael Radford’s Nineteen Eighty-four (UK 1984), his is the definitive screen Winston Smith; but one can easily imagine him taking a role in Equals, the Kristen Stewart-starring ‘epic love story’ adaptation of Orwell’s novel with which we are currently threatened, just so he can suffer again and suffer some more. It would not be the first time Hurt returned for a further dose of agony and anguish, reprising tragedy as farce. After all, his is the chest from which the alien chestburster first burst, and then again in Spaceballs (Brooks US 1987).

And it this capacity for suffering, and for provoking our sympathy, that is the key to Hurt’s persona and to his casting as the Doctor, and as this particular Doctor; that, and his aura of jaded sexual dissidence – he is, do not forget, Caligula in I, Claudius (UK 1976) – that often also leads to suffering.

He is Max, the heroin addict stuck in a Turkish hellhole prison in Midnight Express (Parker UK/US 1978) but in Love and Death on Long Island (Kwietniowski UK/Canada 1997), he is Giles De’Ath – a reclusive, modernity-hating author who stumbles into a cinema hoping for an E.M. Forster adaptation and instead gets Hotpants College II and is smitten with its star, Ronnie Bostock (Jason Priestley). He is John Merrick in The Elephant Man (Lynch US 1980), disfigured, despised and turned into a sideshow freak. Yet he is also The Countess in Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (Van Sant US 1993), sagely noting, ‘All of us are freaks in one way or another. Try being born a male Russian Countess into a white, middle class, Baptist family in Mississippi, and you’ll see what I mean’. In 10 Rillington Place (Fleischer UK 1971), he is the ill-educated Timothy Evans, framed and executed for murders committed by serial killer John Christie (Richard Attenborough). In Scandal (Caton-Jones UK 1989), he is Stephen Ward, the procurer at the heart of the Profumo affair, who is abandoned by his Establishment friends, scapegoated and driven to suicide (or possibly murdered by MI5). But he is also the fabulous flaming Quentin Crisp in The Naked Civil Servant (UK 1975), produced by Doctor Who’s very own Verity Lambert, and in An Englishman in New York (UK 2009).[3] He is the fearfully haunted Parkin in Whistle and I’ll Come to You (UK 2010) and the ailing vampire Christopher Marlowe in Only Lovers Left Alive (Jarmusch UK/Germany/France/Cyprus/US 2013), but he is also the world-weary assassin in The Hit (Frears UK 1984) and, in a neat reversal, Britain’s fascist dictator, the Big Brother to Evey’s (Natalie Portman) Winston Smith, in V for Vendetta (McTeigue US/UK/Germany 2005).

And in Frankenstein Unbound (Corman US 1990), he is Dr Joe Buchanan, the inventor of an ultimate weapon that tears holes in time and space. It casts him back to the very birth of sf, to the Villa Diodati in 1817, but in an alternative history in which Mary Shelley is writing up a factual account, not a novel, of the Frankenstein affair. And then he travels forward into a future in which his superweapon has destroyed humankind.

He has done all this before. No wonder the War Doctor’s weary mantra is ‘no more, no more’. You can hear his exhaustion ground deep in that gravelly voice.

‘I’ve been fighting this war for a long time, I’ve lost the right to be the Doctor’, he tells the sentient ultimate weapon as he prepares to use it, knowing that his punishment will be to survive genociding his own people. But Hurt has suffered – has hurt – for so long, who else had the right to be the War Doctor?

Notes
[1] Although, being a Steven Moffat episode, actually it can. The scenario can be gamed, and what was written in stone can be rewritten, while handy amnesia also leaves continuity pretty much intact.
[2] Already a stage actor, his first television appearance was in an episode of Probation Officer (UK 1959–62) broadcast two years before ‘An Unearthly Child’.
[3] Sadly, he is also Kerwin, the gay cop teamed with Ryan O’Neal in the alleged comedy Partners (Burrows US 1982).

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Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (Iñárritu 2014) ⭐✩✩✩✩✩✩✩✩✩✩

birdman-click1 star out of 10 for this awful film.

I only went to see it because Jason Wyngarde told me it was the best ever superhero movie ever. Apparently it deconstructs the entire genre – I’m not sure what that means, but I think it means what Zack Snyder does.

And he said it proves that there can be art in a world of commerce. (Jason Wyngarde is full of shit.)

I am not surprised the whole franchise was cancelled way back, and I’m amazed the studio let them use the character in this cheap rickety mess. They should sue. It is the worst franchise reboot ever. Worse even than Fantastic Four.

And there was only one action sequence. It was like watching Universal Soldier: The Return all over again.

I’m not sure what the subtitle even means, or why the brackets are where they are. And I’m surprised that they hired the guy who named Quantum of Solace, but at least he is having to work his way back up from the subtitle department.  (Jason Wyngarde probably thinks it is ever so clever, but he is a jackass.)

And, Mr Fancy Pants Oscar-Winning Director, have you never heard of editing?

Stalker (Tarkovsky 1979) ⭐✩✩✩✩✩✩✩✩✩✩

1 out of 10 for this awful film.dog-stalker-620x350

I only went to see it because Jason Wyngarde told it me it contained all the things I like in films: trains, dogs and monkeys. He told me that by putting all three together in one film, Tarkovsky transcended genre.

Jason Wyngarde is a fool.

The film earns its one star out of ten for the dog. He is pretty cool. He shows up about halfway through in what you think is a dream sequence but then sticks around when everyone wakes up and pops up again from time to time.  He is affectionate and energetic, without being too bouncy, and he is still young enough that his paws sometimes seem too big for him. He is well-trained, unlike the rest of the cast, and gives the best performance in the whole film.

Tarkovsky clearly does not know what he thinks about trains. He sends mixed messages about them.

For a long time it feels like you are only going to hear them off screen, and then when you do eventually see them they are disappearing into the fog. But then the Stalker and his clients find a motor-driven buggy that travels along the railway line. The sequence is so exhilarating, capturing the real experience of riding the rails, that the film turns into colour to express how magical it all is. But then they ditch the buggy and for some reason, the inattentive Tarkovsky forgets to turn the colour back off.

And the rest of the film seems to blame trains for everything, from the polluted landscape to the glass the naughty girl carelessly breaks at the end.

From what I could make out from the people leaving the cinema behind me, a lot of people think that the dog, who is yelping offscreen, is moving it with his telekinetic powers. (Jason Wyngarde probably thinks that, too.)

Oh, and the monkey is not even a monkey.

1/10